This article was updated on 3 April 2020, to reflect recent developments and include a reference to the United States decision in January this year to lift its ban on landmines.
Every hour, people die or lose limbs from stepping on a landmine. Most of these victims are civilians, living in countries at peace.
Two decades on from the Mine Ban Treaty – a global agreement to ban the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of antipersonnel mines – some countries continue to make and keep these weapons. And even some of the 164 signatories still have stockpiles.
The latest Landmine Monitor report reveals there are about 50 million antipersonnel mines stockpiled around the world. A significant number, but much reduced from the 160 million that were estimated to be kept before the 1999 treaty came into effect.
Award-winning short film Hearts and Minds from the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) portrays the effects landmines on civilians.
Where are the biggest landmine stockpiles?
Currently, it’s thought as many as 30 of the 33 states not party to the agreement stockpile landmines. The largest stockpilers among these nations collectively hold about 45 million mines, with Russia (26.5 million), Pakistan (an estimated 6 million) and India (an estimated 4-5 million) making up the top three. China, meanwhile, is thought to hold less than 5 million.
The report says at least 158 of the states party to the treaty do not stockpile landmines. But some surprising countries that are signatories of the treaty still keep them in their arsenals.
Finland, for example, has 16,000, topping the list of nations with more than 1,000 mines in storage for these purposes.
How many people are killed or injured by landmines?
As well as committing to never use landmines, countries that have signed the Mine Ban Treaty have also agreed to remove mines buried on their territory.
Progress is being made here – in 2017, about 128 square kilometres of land was reported to have been cleared, with 168,000 landmines destroyed.
But 58 countries remain contaminated with landmines. And massive contamination, of a total area of more than 100 square kilometres per country, is believed to exist in nations including Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Turkey and Yemen.
2017 was the third year in a row with exceptionally high numbers of recorded casualties due to antipersonnel, anti-vehicle and improvised devices. The Landmine Monitor recorded 7,239 casualties – 2,793 people were confirmed as killed and 4,431 were injured.
Afghanistan and Syria top the casualty list, followed by Ukraine, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, Myanmar, Libya and Yemen. The largest toll was taken by improvised mines (2,716) and the single biggest group of casualties were children (2,452).
Most recorded landmine casualties were civilians (87%), a higher ratio than in recent years. The monitor has recorded more than 122,000 mine casualties since its global tracking began in 1999, of whom 86,000 survived.
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Who is making landmines?
The report identifies 11 countries that retain the capability to produce landmines: China, Cuba, India, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam. Most are not believed to be actively producing mines.
Insurgents have produced mines in countries including Afghanistan, Colombia, Myanmar, Nigeria and Yemen.
Forty states have ceased production of antipersonnel mines, including four that are not party to the Mine Ban Treaty: Egypt, Israel and Nepal.
In January 2020, the United States announced it wanted to re-authorise the use of anti-personnel mines by its army, putting a strain on the international goal of completing mine clearance work in post-conflict countries by 2025.
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, has taken up the campaign that his late mother Princess Diana started with her visit to an Angolan minefield in 1997, helping to galvanize global action that ultimately led to the 1999 treaty.
“Somewhere in the world right now, a parent is making the grimmest of choices: to risk cultivating mine-contaminated land or to let their family starve. That is no choice at all. The sooner we are able to clear all the remaining landmines, the less chance there is of innocent lives being lost or changed forever," Prince Harry has said.